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Skiing is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the winter weather, but it’s also a sport that comes with an increased risk of injury. The good news is that there are ways to prevent the most common skiing injuries. Let’s take a look at what those are.
Types of skiing injuries
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprains or ruptures
The ACL and MCL are ligaments in the knee that help keep the joint stable. A rupture or strain occurs when the ACL or MCL is torn or stretched beyond its normal range of motion. This can cause pain, swelling, and instability in the knee joint and may require surgery.
If you catch an edge with your skis and your bindings don’t release, the force can cause your knees to twist.
To reduce the risk of injury, ski bindings are designed to release your boot in the event of a crash. The DIN setting is the indication of how easily the boot will release from the binding. The higher the DIN setting, the greater the amount of force needed for the skis to release from the feet.
It’s incredibly important to make sure the DIN settings are set low enough on the bindings that the skis come off when you crash. If they’re set too high and don’t pop off, the risk of severe knee injuries is very high.
Knee meniscus tears
Falling over when skiing can cause the knee to twist, which can result in tears of the meniscus. The meniscus is a C-shaped cartilage ring which acts as a shock absorber and distributes forces in the knee more evenly. Whilst smaller tears can be treated without any operations, more severe tears can cause major discomfort and may need surgery. If you’ve fallen over while skiing and your pain limits your activities or continues to give you grief after several weeks, your knee consultant may recommend keyhole surgery to repair the tear and help restore movement. Meniscal tears can often exist with other internal problems in the knee such as ACL tears.
The hip labrum is a ring of cartilage that lines the socket. It forms a suction seal around the joint to keep fluid in and allow friction free, smooth movement. During skiing, if you force your hip into an unnatural position, you can suffer a labral tear. Common symptoms of this injury include a clicking or locking sensation in your hip when you move, hip stiffness or hip ‘giving way’. Pain is usually felt in the groin and occasionally in the buttocks.
Hip labral tears don’t heal on their own. However, if your tear is minor, is not causing much pain or limiting your mobility, it’s possible to manage the symptoms using a range of non-surgical treatments, such as physiotherapy, steroid injections and over-the-counter medications.
Achilles tendon rupture
The Achilles tendon is made up of your two calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. They both come down your calf and turn into the Achilles tendon, which then attaches into your heel bone at the back. In ski injuries, the Achilles tendon may stretch and tear. This could be a partial tear or a complete rupture.
Although it’s possible to have no symptoms with an Achilles tendon rupture, most people have:
The feeling of being kicked in the calf
Pain, possibly severe, and swelling near the heel
The inability to bend the foot downward or ‘push off’ the injured leg when walking
An inability to stand on the toes on the injured leg
A popping or snapping sound when the injury happens
A twisted ankle is a common skiing injury that can have a lasting impact. You’ll likely experience swelling, bruising and pain, followed by a feeling of weakness or a wobbly ankle.
A sprained ankle ligament can progress to chronic ankle instability, so it’s best to treat this with physiotherapy to avoid surgery further down the line.
While most winter sports injuries won’t be so severe, a bad crash can result in broken or fractured legs. This is especially a risk for skiers who don’t release from their bindings during a fall or a crash. To avoid mounting healthcare bills, it’s therefore a very good idea to take out travel insurance that specifically covers winter sports. A good insurance will cover emergency treatment abroad and repatriation fees. When you’re back in the UK, we’d definitely recommend seeing a specialist consultant, who can make sure you’re on the right recovery path and check over your care to date, as treatments abroad can vary.
How to prevent skiing injuries
So, now you know what the most common ski injuries are, how can you prevent them?
Skiing is a sport that requires good balance and control; beginners are at the highest risk of injury, so it’s essential to be educated on proper technique and the use of protective equipment.
Be in peak physical fitness
Before hitting the slopes, make sure you’re in good physical shape. Exercises that focus on building strength and improving flexibility and endurance will all help prevent skiing injuries. If you feel pain while exercising, stop immediately and seek medical advice.
Some great exercises are:
Squats – these are great for building strength in your quads and glutes.
Lunges – great for strengthening hips and thighs, as well as improving balance.
Side planks and leg lifts – these target the obliques, which are vital for anti-rotation and help protect the back and spine in more dynamic movements.
See our skiing physio blog for a selection of useful exercise videos, which you can use as a training guide at home.
Take ski lessons
If you’re new to skiing or it’s been a while, professional ski lessons are a great way to get started. They help with your confidence and technique and can also teach you how to fall correctly to reduce the risk of injury. Even experienced skiers can benefit from lessons. So don’t be afraid to sign up and learn something new.
Use the right kit
Your ski equipment and clothing are one of the most important things to get right. Make sure your ski equipment fits properly and is right for your skill level and where you intend to ski.
If you’re hiring your kit, only use shops that correctly measure you for boots, skis and poles. If you have your own, make sure it’s in excellent condition – it should be relatively new, regularly serviced and set up correctly. Make sure you also invest in the right clothes. The last thing you need is to get cold and wet when you’re up in the mountains. Wear layers of clothing designed to be water and windproof, and don’t forget to invest in some goggles, ski gloves and liners, a neck warmer and warm socks.
Use protective gear
A ski helmet is essential, not only to protect you when you fall, but also from other skiers who can lose control and crash into you. Make sure your helmet fits properly! If you’re renting one, ask for help if you’re not sure how the fit should feel.
Warm up before hitting the slopes
Before you ski, it’s essential to warm up your muscles to avoid injury, and have a good, filling breakfast that will sustain you for longer. No matter your skill level, it’s also a good idea to start your day on slower runs.
Ski to your ability
Skiing within your ability and comfort level is important, especially if you are new to the sport. Only attempt runs you know you can handle, and be sure to practice before moving up to more challenging slopes. Observe signs and warnings, stick to safe areas and don’t ski alone.
Skiing injuries are more likely if you’re tired or dehydrated. So make sure to get enough rest and drink plenty of fluids — avoid alcohol, which dehydrates you and impairs judgement.
Situations in the mountain environment can change in a heartbeat — from deteriorating weather and changing snow conditions to drunk skiers! These factors are outside your control, but if you stay aware of your surroundings, you can prevent many accidents from happening. If you do get injured while skiing, don’t try to push through the pain. Ski clinics can help you treat common injuries, and when you get home, follow up with a visit to our Private GP Practice, Urgent Care Clinic or expert consultants for advice.
Most skiing injuries affect the knees and hips, and many can be treated conservatively, with physiotherapy and pain management. If you’re worried, our Hip Clinic and Knee Clinic are ideal for tailored advice.
No one wants their ski trip cut short by an injury but following this advice can help you enjoy a fantastic holiday on the slopes. By being careful and prepared, you can make sure your skiing holiday is memorable for all the right reasons.
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